The Wolves

By Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

(Originally written in Russian)

When the church-village slumbers
And the last songs are sung,
When the grey mist arising,
Is o’er the marshes hung,
It’s then the woods forsaking,
Their way cross country taking,
Nine howling wolves come hungering for food.

Behind the first,—the grey one,—
Trot seven more of black,
Close on their hoary leader;
As rearguard of the pack
The red wolf limps, all bloody,
His paws with gore still ruddy
As after his companions grim he pants.

When through the village lurking
Nothing gives them pause or fright,
No watch dog dares to bellow,
The peasant ghastly white,
His breath can scarce be taking,
His limbs withhold from shaking—
While prayers of terror freeze upon his lips!

About the church they circle
And softly slink away
To prowl about the priest’s farm,
Then of a sudden they
Are round the drink shop turning,
Fain some bad word be learning—
From peasants drinking noisily within.

With fully thirteen bullets
Your weapon must be armed,
And with a wad of goat’s hair;
Then you will fight unharmed.
Fire calmly,—and before all
Will the leader, the grey, fall,
The rest will surely follow one by one.

When the rooster wakes the village
From out of its morning dream,
You will see the corpses—
Nine she-wolves by the stream!
On the right lies the grey one,
To left in frost the lame one—
All bloody,—God pardon us sinners!